By Tamhas Woods
Gonzalo Montiel’s penalty in the 2022 FIFA World Cup (WC) final proved decisive, as Argentina overcame France after a 3-3 thriller to claim their third world title, ending an agonising wait of 36 years to lift the beautiful game’s greatest of prizes.
Despite being heavily billed as the two main protagonists of this final, neither Kylian Mbappé nor Lionel Messi could create a major chance in the opening exchanges.
Before long, however, Messi would have his first golden moment of the evening, taking responsibility from the spot with 23 minutes played, after Ousmane Dembélé clumsily tripped Ángel Di Maria inside the box. Following a deep breath, the maestro sent Hugo Lloris the wrong way with a nonchalant side-footed shot into the bottom-right corner, sending swathes of Albiceleste fans into delirium, while also becoming the first man to score in every WC knockout round under the 32-team format.
While reports of a virus in the France camp provided some mitigation for Les Bleus’ insipid display to that point, they were carved open again 10 minutes before HT via a perfect team goal.
Messi stole possession from a throw-in and found Julián Álvarez, who in turn passed sharply to Alexis Mac Allister. Ever a visionary, the Brighton man spotted Di Maria on the opposite flank, and the Juventus winger ran unchallenged with perfect timing to slot beyond Lloris and seemingly settle the showdown with an hour still to play.
Argentina were thwarted mostly by a still-overworked Lloris in the second half, and France coach Didier Deschamps duly indulged in a seismic roll of the dice. He injected some much-needed pace with the dual deployment of Eduardo Camavinga and Kingsley Coman, but it was earlier substitute Randal Kolo Muani who gave Les Bleus a way back, going down in the box under Nicolás Otamendi’s challenge.
Not to be denied his own plot twist, Mbappé stepped up to fire a cool penalty beyond the dive of Emiliano Martínez. Just moments later, the Parisian was on hand again to receive a pass inside the box from Marcus Thuram, firing sublimely across Martínez to equalise and overtake Messi as the tournament’s top scorer in the blink of an eye.
The WC final ended level after regular time for a fourth time in five editions, and ET was predictably tense, but Argentina took the lead once more when Lautaro Martínez meandered into the area, and fired from the angle, drawing a close-range parry from Lloris. Of all the potential heroes on the night, Messi latched onto the rebound and saw his follow-up shot cleared away – but not before crossing the line by mere inches, apparently giving Argentina victory in the most dramatic of circumstances.
But Mbappé went above and beyond once again, slotting home a penalty, awarded after a handball from Montiel inside the box with 116 minutes played, to ensure that the WC final would be settled by penalties for the first time in 16 years.
Back in 2006, France were bested by Italy in such heartbreaking circumstances, and history repeated itself when Montiel redeemed himself to beat Lloris in the decisive duel, sealing a third world title for Argentina. For brace-scoring captain Messi, who will thrust the ultimate prize high into the desert sky, the long road from La Masia to El Maestro is now complete, and nobody can deny him his much-debated equality with 1986 champion Diego Maradona.
But tonight was as much about the future generation of Albiceleste, who will have Italy and Germany’s joint-second best tally of four WC titles in their sights for 2026. On this evidence, Messi’s successors will stop at nothing to ensure the name of Argentina is anointed in lights many more times in the years to come.